Saturday, January 31, 2015

Oscars!: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Movie: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film

Disclaimer: I saw the Japanese language version with subtitles, not the dubbed version for American audiences. 

Princess Kaguya is set during the Heian period of Japan. Kaguya is discovered by a woodcutter as a perfect tiny person in a bamboo stalk, whom he brings home, where she transforms into an infant. He and his wife, being older and having no children, adopt her and raise her as their own -- except that she grows super fast, is very precocious, and he keeps finding things in the bamboo stalks like gold and rich robes for her. Eventually he decides that he is supposed to take her to the capital and ensure that she is raised like a noble princess, and from there her life takes a downturn. She is changed from the carefree child to a beautiful proper Heian lady who is always sad. When suitors come calling, however, that is when the story becomes complicated and the truth of the little bamboo baby is revealed.

Kaguya is simply gorgeous. That has to be stated outright. Studio Ghibli films are often visually arresting, but this one has the feel not as much of Ghibli's regular look, but of the traditional Yamato-e style of the period. The work is a fine blend of the two looks, and I really found it enjoyable to watch. The early sections with Kaguya as a baby are very cheerful and funny to watch, while the somber and gorgeous latter half makes it difficult to look away.

Which leads me to this next point -- this film is long. 137 minutes. We watched it with the kids, and while they both got through it (a testament to how good it is) we were all pretty tired by the end of it, and we hadn't really budgeted our time well because didn't check the length before we started it. Also, Kaguya is not really calibrated for American child-friendliness. Kaguya gets her period ("comes of age"), and there's talk of seductions and a marriage plot that little ones may not follow well. Also, all the babies run around mostly naked -- which isn't a big problem, since they're babies, but it means that boy babies have not-emphasized penises and women who are breastfeeding have breasts and that sort of thing. All natural, not sexualized, but present in a way that American culture doesn't typically encourage.

Kaguya is, essentially, a Japanese fairy tale about identity and changing seasons and growth and love and death and loss. It is not a Disney film. It has things to say about women and their roles that I struggle with, which is not something I was expecting when I sat down to this. I actually have a hard time placing it in the same category as How to Train Your Dragon 2 or Big Hero 6, because they are fundamentally such different types of movies. Animation should not be the deciding factor here. I'm going to have to think more about this one before I can decide how I feel about whether it should win the category it's in.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Oscars!: Into the Woods

Movie: Into the Woods
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Costumes, Best Production Design

Okay, so it's worthwhile to start by saying that I'm a fan of the original play. I have never seen it done in person, but I've seen the wonderful recording of it on Broadway, with Bernadette Peters playing the Witch, and I've listened to the soundtrack for ages.

Resultingly, I feel like Rob Marshall did a surprisingly good job at bringing it to the screen, but that it's very much DISNEY's Into the Woods, and the entire second half of the movie reflects that. Gone are the darker elements of Sondheim and Lapine's musical -- Rapunzel doesn't die, and the Prince doesn't actually sleep with the Baker's Wife, for example. We don't get the reprise of the songs, and things are shifted around -- "No More," one of my favorite songs, is completely absent for example, and the Narrator part is written out entirely. The end result is that the first half plays about as normal, but the last half feels disconnected and dark without having any real context. You get the sense that it's trying to do some mature things, but then they are either inconsistent (for example, ambivalence about killing the giantess followed by killing her and celebrating as though nothing's wrong) or hollow (the lack of real mourning by the Baker for his wife, as well as a lack of earned connection with his child). I was not a real fan as a result, as beautiful as it was, and I'm happy to go back to the stage version.

Now, that being said, Emily Blunt did a great job as the Baker's Wife, and I thought Anna Kendrick was fun as Cinderella, even if it did feel as though she was mostly standing around for the end of the movie (having most of the heart of her role cut out by the changes). The role of the Witch was similarly affected, but Meryl Streep rises above it to provide a solidly excellent performance, especially given the acrobatics and effects of the role. Chris Pine was very good as Prince Charming, but again, his character loses his way in the script in the second half, which is highly disappointing. In addition the casting of Red Riding Hood as a girl rather than the 20-something she's usually played as made the Wolf's song... disturbing, even as toned down as it is. Depp was very good as the wolf, for the whole 10 minutes of the show he's in, but that doesn't help all that much.

I would have loved to see Rob Marshall's take on this out from under the changes mandated by Disney, as Chicago proves that he is more than capable of handling mature material in a musical. Unfortunately, we'll never know what that show might have been.

Predictions: Streep was very good, but honestly this should not be a year to give her this award. The costumes were lovely, but nothing that made me really stand up and take notice. Production Design I could see, though. We'll just have to wait and find out what happens. :) 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Being a one-car household

So, since the beginning of the semester, my husband and I have been trying out co-commuting, effectively pretending that we only have one car (my car's lease is up and it's due back to the dealership on the 7th). In doing so, I have discovered a few things:

1) I don't mind being without a car, for the most part. I miss my radio station (he hates listening to the radio) and I miss my podcasts (his car is old and doesn't have an iPhone-compatible radio) but I can find other times and ways to enjoy these things.

2) Being on campus for longer each day has proven to be useful to my work. I'm sad about this -- I want to be able to work as well at home as I can at school, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I blame the corgi -- because if you have a corgi, it only makes sense to blame them. :)

3) I've started having my evenings largely free, while getting more work done during the day. This is actually pretty good for my sanity (and necessary during Oscar season). Good stuff.

4) Planning ahead sucks. I'm largely managing it with Matt's help, but it's just one more reminder that I have things I am not good at in life.

So... yeah. I'll get another car after we pay down some debt and get things squared away, but it won't be until the summer at the soonest, and maybe not until next year -- and I think that's okay. We'll see how this experiment goes.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Oscars!: Big Hero 6

Movie: Big Hero 6
Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film

Unlike most of the listed Oscar films, I saw this one earlier this year -- twice, in fact. I narrowly avoided seeing it a third time, not because I didn't like it, but because I don't get to see that many movies and I had qualifying exams to study for, people. So yeah. 

Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel property; I never read the comic book, so I can't say much about whether or not it's true to the source material. The story revolves around 14-yr-old supergenius Hiro Hamada and his search for his big brother Tadashi's killer, helped by Baymax, a medical assistant robot Tadashi built, and Tadashi's fellow engineering students at "nerd school," or San Fransokyo Tech, in the robotics department. 

So, barring weather and scenery, SFT is effectively Case Western Reserve University. That means there's a lot of familiar stuff for me in this show -- they handle the academic science backdrop of the setting very well. I have heard complaints of whitewashing, but I don't feel that way about the movie; I think it was actually pretty diverse for a Disney film, although there can always be more. 

I really enjoyed this film. The story had far more depth than an average Disney flick has any right to, and the characters were well rounded and convincing. Baymax in particular wobbled effortlessly along the fine line between "imaginary all-powerful friend" and "realistic limited creation," which isn't easy to pull off in a story like this. The voicework was uniformly awesome, including yet another great turn by Alan Tudyk, whom I never recognize in a film these days until I see the credits -- his range is astounding. 

I know there might be downsides to this movie, but it's hard to see them. I'd happily buy it for my kids and watch it with them, even with the crying parts (because yes, there are crying parts). It shows a welcome sensitivity to situations that I've missed from Disney for a while now, and it's good to see it again -- also good to see something from them that isn't a "princess" film. :P I'm kinda done with those for a while. 

In terms of winning... I think it's pretty much the 800 lb gorilla in the category. Train Your Dragon 2 was good, but I really think this is better, and anything with the Disney brand attached to it is going to have a powerful pull. I still have to see the rest of the nominees for animation, but when I do, I'll be sure to post about it here and see if anything changes my mind. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Oscars!: Birdman

Movie: Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director

So. Birdman. I admit, I was not looking forward to this movie, though many of my friends were. I think the chance to see a serious film that seemed to have a sense of humor about the whole comic-movie phenomenon was greatly appealing for a goodly number of people. I'll bet not one of them was expecting what they got.

We went in during the previews and sat down, and the opening credits begin to roll, and at the end of them, there's a quote from Raymond Carver:

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
― Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall
That sets the tone for the central struggle for Riggan Thompson, the central character (played brilliantly by Michael Keaton). We follow the character into a rehearsal of an adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," which I recognized from the opening lines the actors were saying.  Now, for the folks at home, you should know that I admire Raymond Carter's work, but I don't like it. I would never read Carver for sheer entertainment value, although I admire the hell out of his craftsmanship. All things being equal though, if you haven't read any Carver and you plan to see this movie, you should. It'll put a new spin on it for you.

When I came out of the theater, I could not say I loved this movie. It was good, and I appreciated it, but I couldn't say I loved it. It grows on you, though... the more time you have to settle in with it, the better it becomes -- and it starts off pretty darn good. The director is Alejandro Inarritu, and he set himself up for a heck of a challenge in this film. It's got echoes of Carver and Macbeth and a thousand other small life tragedies running madly through it in opposition to the heroic ideal that Riggan turned away from, in the form of the voice in his head that is Birdman, which dogs him and makes him wonder if he's ascending to a higher form of consciousness -- one with his own superpowers. He shot the film to look as though it's all one long take, and while it isn't -- some parts had to be edited together, naturally -- the number of long takes he did do makes it pretty seamless. It was shot in under a month and the process was pretty grueling, according to IMDB and interviews with the actors, but the feeling of all of it seamlessly flowing together is amazing. The work paid off in spades. 

Birdman is an incredible technical and theatrical experience. Michael Keaton gets to break out of all the crap roles he's had thrown at him and soar, and it's beautiful. Emma Stone gives the film its humanity by being Keaton's equal and breaking through the facade of the actors she's surrounded with, in yet another stellar performance. Edward Norton... man, I am not a huge Edward Norton fan, but I loved him in this film. Holy cats. 

Now, all of that said? I don't know that Birdman deserved all the nominations it got. I'm not sure it deserves to win Best Picture. Inarritu's examination of the supposed costs of consumer culture film (which is by no means altogether negative, regardless of the experience many of the characters have in trying to decide between success and "art") is transformed into something else entirely by the movie's lionization by the Academy, wherein it becomes a sort of political "fuck you" to all the Marvel/DC/sequel/genre films for being noisy and successful and appealing to a broader demographic than the old, white, male Academy filmgoer/auteur, at the same time casting doubt on whether those stories can ever have something meaningful to say. I don't like the implications of that, and I'm not altogether pleased with even the most beautiful art when it's brandished as an insult. That said, I'm refraining on predictions at this point, though Birdman is definitely worthy of some sort of reward -- it's a hell of a film. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Oscars!: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Movie: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film

Okay, so let's just say that I'm not happy about a lot of things with the Oscars this year. The blatant race and gender issues, the make up of the Academy membership, the whole American Sniper issues... and let's not forget that for animated films, both The Lego Movie and The Book of Life were left out of the final nominees, which is pretty much ludicrous on all fronts, given that The Boxtrolls got in there. But that's neither here nor there in the end, except to say that, as in many years, I take issue with some facets of how the particularly white Academy sausage was made this year. But, all the issues in the world won't get an Oscars dinner on the table, and I enjoy that tradition too much to abandon it altogether. To the movie, then!

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is one I saw earlier in the year and watched again the other night with my stepkids. I am wholly in the thrall of Toothless, who reminds me to no small degree of my corgi. Such a sweet little nightfury, yes he is....


Anyway, so if you haven't seen the first one, the jist is that the Vikings of a small town called Berk used to be dragon hunters, and through an accidental relationship between Hiccup, the chief's son, and the nightfury dragon he injures but cannot bring himself to kill, instead nursing him back to health and eventually proving to his father that people and dragons can not only co-exist, but positively thrive together.

In the second movie, we pick up a few years later. Hiccup and Toothless are exploring the world, while Berk is specializing in dragon races and retooling from a war economy, and Stoic (the chief) wants to hand off leadership to Hiccup, who just isn't feeling it. And while that sounds very much like the plot of Brave, only from a male point of view, the story is interestingly complicated by a larger threat to the dragons and the rediscovery of Hiccup's mother, who turns out not to be dead but instead very much alive and a career woman, as it were. She admits fault for not coming back and is overjoyed to be found, but isn't about to give up the things she loves -- and in her Hiccup sees so much of the things he'd always felt outcast about.

The relationship between Stoic and his wife is very sweet, and the relationship between Hiccup and Astrid, his friend/sweetheart is very understated. Astrid is good at all the leadership stuff that Hiccup isn't sure about, and the seemingly-ideal solution of shared leadership is never addressed. Sexual orientation is very subtly hinted at in the figure of Stoic's right-hand man, but it's an ambiguous half-a-line in an otherwise not-commenting-on-orientation film, so I'm hesitant to hang too much on it.

That said, it is an absolutely gorgeous film. The voice work is spot on, there aren't a ton of inappropriate jokes to interrupt the flow, the dragons are totally awesome, and the animation is really very good.

Oscars Prediction: It was totally worthy of nomination and it's not likely to win. It's also not my choice to win -- I'm saving that for another one on the list. I'm glad it made the short list, though.


Okay, so my husband and I (really, it started with him and I bought into it) enjoy the Oscars. Yes, it's problematic on a number of levels. No, the Academy's choices don't reflect quality for a year as a whole, or the filmgoing public at large -- they're old, rich, white, film guys, basically, and that's oh-so-notably reflected in their choices. That being said... well, it's still a fun party.

So here's how this goes. We try to watch all the Oscar nominated films, generally giving a miss to at least some of the foreign films (really hard to come by in Cleveland), the shorts, and the documentaries. Yes, Cedar Lee does its best to get them, but between limitations of time and money, generally something has to give. That leaves us with the acting, writing, directing, and technical awards, pretty much.

We watch these movies until the awards show rolls around, and then we have a dinner party in which we cook one dish for each Best Picture nomination. We all then eat and drink wine and watch the red carpet and the awards and kibitz and it's fun. We don't dress up, because there's generally a full day+ of cooking going on and we are not on a red carpet, plus we have large friendly dogs who don't understand nice clothing. Along the way, I try to review the movies I've seen and give them commentary, so that I've got a record of them. Also, it's something to put on my blog. :) So you can expect a movie post every few days if nothing else, and if it's a best picture nomination, I'll try to put something about a food for it, maybe. Here we go!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Second Sock Malaise

This sock. This OMG sock. I am so over this sock, I cannot even tell you. And yet, it is not the sock's fault. It has done nothing wrong.

But let me start again.

So, once upon a time, I was involved in a Changeling: The Lost game that my husband ran. You could read about it here, if you wanted. In a fit of "I really don't know what I'm saying here" I decided to make each player a pair of socks inspired by their character. That fact that I had only made two, only partially successful, pair of plain socks previously did nothing to dissuade me; I felt it would be a learning experience. Oh boy, was it ever.

So, the first socks I chose were two-color repeating pattern colorwork. They also turned out to be weirdly fitting, and I chose the wrong yarn for them -- which is why my husband got the first pair. I still owe him a competent pair of socks, since he liked them anyway and wore a hole in them.

The second pair was overbig -- I chose the wrong size, but told myself it was okay because she often has ankle issues that make her feet swell. They had a cable pattern that was fun to figure out but I ended up running out of yarn, and the toe of the second sock ended up being another color. But since her character died once, I made it part of the story. Good pattern, though.

The third pair was just right -- two-color colorwork again, but not repeating, at least not on the leg portion. The yarn choice was right, the size was right, I finally understood heels... all good. There's a bit of a windowpane problem in that the design fades out in the picture, but that was less the case in person. And it was the player's favorite colors. Win.

Now these socks -- they're for Hod, btw, if you read the campaign and are wondering. Three-color fair isle, more or less. Winter court. I've been working on them on and off for a while -- I set them aside while I was doing giftmas knitting, but now I'm back to them because I need those 3 mm needles for something else, darn it, and they aren't going to knit themselves. The yarn is nice -- bamboo, designed for socks, has a nice bit of stretch to it. The pattern is "Mix it up" socks, where you pick and choose what pattern you're using and in what order. In short, exactly what you'd do if you were not using this pattern and just making up fair isle socks, but with some suggestions and without having to consult a fair isle book.

I completed the first sock a while ago and it's perfect. It fits, it's not got big holes in it, everything happened where and how it should... it's all awesome. And then I started the second sock, and I'm just... so wanting to be done. I am no longer in love with this sock, even though it's a perfectly good sock and I have no right to complain about it. I am currently on the third set of patterns and almost done with that. After the fourth set of patterns, I start on the heel, which will make them more interesting again. So really, it's not that bad and it'll be done soon. Second socks, though, man. Never stop in the middle of the second sock -- it's not worth it to get the willingness up to start again.

Once I move on to the next socks, I'll post the pattern here as well. I have three more characters to go -- not counting socks for my character, which may or may not happen. We'll see.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Many Faces of Gaming -- or, whose table is it, anyway?

Image property of Geek Chic 
So, today I found a thoughtful and well-written piece by Eytan Bernstein published over at Kobold Press called "The Many Faces of Gaming: Female Gamers." I appreciated his thoughtful and considered approach to the topic women in gaming, but even as I read it, and thought about how people I admire cared enough to approach this topic with care and consideration (Wolfgang and Shelly Baur are both friends and awesome people, for example, and I have nothing but good words for Kobold Press)... something bothered me. Again, no slight toward anyone behind the article. It just... it's like a splinter you can't see, you know? It's not anything you realizing until something rubs up against it.

So I thought about it a lot, and finally, I realized what it came down to. Eytan's piece is careful in counseling how to deal with women gamers from a male perspective and ensure that your gaming group is an inclusive, welcoming place. There's nothing wrong with that. That sort of piece needs to exist, and in fact is a necessary message within the community, though his piece is nowhere near the first time it's been mentioned. My problem with it, though... well, let's come back to that.


You see that image of the table above? Geek Chic is the company that makes that table. It's handmade. It's amazing. My husband and I have a dining room table from them, as well as one of their coffee tables. They are, bar none, the best furniture we own. You will have seen them at Origins or GenCon or PAX or any number of other conventions, or on Tabletop, Will Wheaton's show.

These, my friends, these are GC's Eight Hour chairs. They are magic to sit in. They have lumbar support. They are all you could want chairs to be. They are my huckleberry, my Xanadu, my Shangri La, my mystical Amazon superhero armor -- I want them so badly I can taste it. They are my jam. I cannot afford them yet, for I am only a sad grad student / game designer, but one day, oh yes, they will be mine. Mwah hah hah. I have gaming furniture lust and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Yeah, baby. Ahem.


So, in reading Eytan's piece, the one thing that pokes at me like an invisible splinter. In the world his article describes... that table above is not my table. A guy owns that table. I am a guest, a visitor in that guy gamer world. I don't actually belong there full-time. I will never own that table. I will never own or desire those chairs. I get that he totally didn't mean it this way, but it remains there all the same. Gamers divided by gender. Differences that have to be negotiated. Spaces that belong to someone else. "Female" and "male" gamers.

(Before I move on from that point, I should say that I do appreciate that "male" is used as well as "female" -- it's at least a step in the right direction, rather than assuming "gamer" = "male," which did not happen here.)

While I appreciate the steps toward inclusion and welcoming as guests, I suppose I feel rather... glossed over. Not by Eytan, but rather by the community that made this article necessary.

You see, I've been gaming since 1989. I've been gaming and playing RPGs for the whole life of the WWW (to put it archaically). I have characters older than Geocities, and if I'd been able to find players in the tiny town I grew up in, I'd have been gaming even longer. I know women who've been gaming longer than I have, and I know lots of other women who're just as passionate about it regardless of the amount of time spent in the hobby.

The only reason that "my husband and I" own a Geek Chic table rather than owning one by myself is because I was broke single parent for a lot of years (and a broke married parent for years before that), but it was never because I wasn't a gamer or because I didn't want one. And that's even a false equivalency, because owning a fancy gaming table is hardly a litmus test for being a real gamer (although owning a table at which one can game is a huge help). I married into co-ownership of the table, but it doesn't have anything to do with my gamer cred, just economic realities. I own a gaming table. I run (and even design and work on) games. I am a gamer, and maybe the guy who comes over to game ought to think of what it means to come into this space as a gamer, because gaming tables and spaces are not male by default.


As a woman, I have my own gaming space, and it's not automatically me fitting into a male hobby. I am part of a community of women designers. I game with other women. And if other women also game but are not as "out there" as I am... consider that there may be environmental, financial, and cultural conditions that may make it more difficult for women to open their homes to gaming groups (primary child caregivers, primary housekeepers, lower salaries and less money to spend, concerns about safety) rather than a lack of interest or being new in someone else's hobby/space. This is pretty much true, btw, for anyone who comes from an underserved demographic in gaming -- if the generic gamer in your head is a white, straight, middle-class guy, you might want to think about why that is, because "gamer" as an interest isn't a default only available to that race/class choice. It's not like elves and low-light vision in D&D, for example;  life doesn't work that way, and it behooves us to stop and think about why it might seem like that.

Anyway. My point is... I'm a woman who games, and I have gaming groups. I host. I have a collection of RPGs (and board games, and some card games, and I flirt with minis games on occasion). I have a table and I want awesome chairs -- FOR GAMING. And even more to the point, this is not a new occurrence. I didn't magically appear. I've been going to GenCon since the early 2000s, and I'm not the only one. Eytan was really thoughtful and careful about putting up that article, but it's 2015, people. He shouldn't have to be. It should be a no-brainer. Be nice. Be respectful. Share space and toys. Be mindful of other people's boundaries, regardless of gender or appearance or religion or race or anything else. Don't be a schmuck.

If a space is going to be inclusive, it must be communal. If it's going to be communal, it doesn't belong to any one person or gender. It is a shared space in which gaming happens, so everyone who enters and shares in that space to game is equal -- no matter whose table it is.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Children!

So my boys were here for the holidays -- only one week this time, as they spent one week of vacation at my mom's house visiting their grandparents and their uncle's family. Alisdair is newly interested in playing the guitar, while William has adopted "dapper" as his new primary philosophy. Both boys were in good health and good spirits, and we had a very good time mostly hanging around the house, with outings to Nana's for New Year's Dinner and lazer tag for fun. Both boys are taller than me, and my youngest is now within an inch of my eldest's height.

I am fascinated by my boys, in that I can start to see the adults they'll become. I don't know whether this is because I see them only sporadically these days, or whether I'd be doing it regardless, but I'm entirely enthralled by it. Alisdair is quiet and thoughtful and kind and funny, and starting to come into his own -- his time at an appropriately nerd-friendly college in some STEM career (as is his plan) will do great things for him. He reads voraciously and is social online and interested in the world around him, and loves games and gaming and the social lives that go along with that.

William has just bloomed this year -- he has discovered that he likes the things he likes, and he doesn't care if they aren't what others care about. He learned to tie a bow tie over Christmas break, and I'll be teaching him to iron his shirts over the summer since button-down shirts are now his jam. He's flirtatious and funny and loves cosplay and music and singing -- his flair for the theatrical is notable and fun, as he invites you into it rather than throwing it at you. He enjoys some reading, but art is really his jam -- he has an art bag he carries everywhere with him and he's constantly drawing. He's basically two years from being a student in a fine arts/design program, where he'll fit in perfectly -- we just have to make sure it's a program that will let him earn a living after he gets out of it, too.

I won't have them with me for Christmas next year -- they want to stay in Seattle and celebrate it with their younger siblings, which is an entirely reasonable request. I know it won't seem like Christmas without them, though -- I'll have to find a way to make it work. To offset this, though, I've already got their tickets to bring them out over Spring Break, which is conveniently next to Will's birthday, so we'll have a party here. :)

I'm truly fortunate in my children, and I love them dearly. They are my brightest stars, wherever they or I may be.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Character Creation: Blue Rose

Character Creation!

Okay, so since we're on break, it's time to make a character, and thus Matt and Al and I will engage in creating one for a game that is long overdue: Blue Rose. Currently out of print (to my knowledge) Blue Rose was one of the first overtly inclusive RPGs, inspired by the fantasy romance properties of Mercedes Lackey, among others, where "fantasy romance" really means "fantasy that isn't primarily a heterosexual male fantasy," because really it's all fantasy no matter what. Still, the focus is on community and groups, inclusion instead of exclusion, and on that score "romantic fantasy" is the moniker the game itself chooses.

Blue Rose is a True20 game, so some of this is going to be super familiar system-wise. The setting is the kingdom of Aldis, which has entered an era of peace after the Shadow Wars of the Sorceror Kings. Nearby kingdoms still struggle under the Shadow, but the heroes of Aldis strive to defend the Light against all who would extinguish it.

Game: Blue Rose Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Green Ronin
Degree of Familiarity: Pretty familiar, both in recommended reading material and in True20 as a system.
Books Required: Just the core book, though we also have the Companion.

Attributes: Blue Rose is True20, which means it skips past the x20 attributes straight to the modifiers as scores. Attributes are the standard set: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. Default is 6 points to spend, though racial choices impact this. I set my points as follows:

Str 1
Dex 2
Con 0
Int 2
Wis 1
Cha 0

She's smart, athletic, and if she's not overly Charismatic, she's really just about average in the world at large. If you like her, it's because of who she is over time, not the first impressions you get. She's not a first impression sort of person, and that's not the sort of thing that's important to her, either.

Races: In Blue Rose, you can be a human from a number of different cultures, one of the Night People (a strong, scary race designed by the Sorcerer Kings as servants), one of the Sea-Folk (androgynous merpeople with legs rather than tails -- think feyish Aquaman), psychic animals (often bonded with a humanoid), and Vata, who are kind of a cross between elves and gelflings-ish?). Al decided to be a Sea-Folk,  I decided to be an Islander (coastal human), and we decided to be half-siblings, since humans and seafolk can interbreed. In the face of this, Matt made the only possible choice left: a psychic dolphin.

So the three of us, more or less together, decided to make a seafaring campaign.

Roles: Al took Warrior, making a fighty Sea-Folk. Matt took Expert, and I took Adept, feeling that I'd need some magic as the only human among an otherwise aquatic party. Of the choices offered, I realized that doing something -bending-esque seemed really appropriate to this character, so I went with the shaping path, with a focus on Water and Wind.

Skills: Swim was a natural, along with Survival and Knowledge (Geography) (my favored race skills). I also went with Craft (wood carving) and Knowledge (sail), as well as Concentration, since Magic seems to need it. Why wood carving? Well, why not, really. Besides, wood floats.

Swim +5
Survival +4
Knowledge (Geography) +6
Craft (Wood Carving) +4
Knowledge (Sailing) +4
Concentration +3

Feats: So, my feats were pretty much determined by my Arcana stuff. As an adept, I get General and Arcane feats. I was trying to figure out how my spells (or Arcana, rather) worked, but after a decent amount of reading through the Adept role (where it's never clearly stated, that I found) and the Feats section (where it's hidden among everything else) I discovered that I had to take Arcane Training, which gave me two new Arcana each time. With that in mind, I went back to the Shaper template under the Adept role and just used the listed feats there, along with one of my favorited racial feats, as otherwise I wouldn't be able to take it.

Shaping Talent
Arcane Training (Manipulate Object, Move Object)
Arcane Training (Water Shaping, Wind Shaping)
Arcane Balance (lets me walk on any surface -- too cool not to take)

Arcana: So these work as skills do -- 1st level gets a +3 bonus if you're an Adept, along with the Int bonus, so that gave me a +5 in the above mentioned Arcana across the board, as they're all Int based.

Other stuff: So, out of the three alignment choices (light, twilight, and shadow), we all chose light. My calling was The World, which is exploration -- I want to go out and find new things and places and see what's beyond my island -- the sea calls to me. My light nature is Enthusiastic, and my shadow nature is Obsessive -- we used tarot cards and random draws to determine what we got. I also have a reputation of +1, and my only good save is Will (+2). My name is Ceta, and I'm out to see the world in the company of my childhood friends.

So there you go! FWIW, I think this is a pretty awesome incarnation of a fantasy x20 game, and if I were going to play in one, Blue Rose would get a vote from me. It's a shame it didn't get more love  back when it came out -- there's a lot of potential here. That said, I'm glad we own it. It's a cool setting, and worthy of exploration.