Sunday, August 7, 2011

GURPS Centurion: Virilus

GURPS Centurion: In my introduction to the Generic Universal Role-Playing System, I proclaimed that it had unrivaled versimilitude and granularity. To illustrate this, I will take some of the main characters from the Neil Marshall movie 'Centurion' and assign them stats according to GURPS. I'll also take a scene or two from the movie and use that to illustrate the deadly versimilitude of the combat system.

Keep in mind that, while this post isn't focused on the movie, the following will contain spoilers for Centurion.

Played by Dominic West in the film, today's GURPS Centurion character is Virilus. General Titus Flavius Virilus, if you want to get tria nomina about it. General Virilus is the general of the Ninth Legion, which is sent into Caledonia (Scotland) to try to wipe out the Picts who defy Roman rule. Virilus is portrayed as the 'head soldier' type: he doesn't view himself as separate from the mass of fighting men under his command. He parties alongside his men, getting into barfights with the rest of them, and exchanging crass jokes with them at all hours of the night while camped. But he's also famed as a successful general and tactician, not allowing over-familiarity with his men to preclude ordering them into famous, bloody victories. Accordingly, he's much beloved by his men, who consider him the consummate brother-in-arms.

This write-up, like Etain previously, is mostly written based on the core GURPS Basic Set. The character gear is from GURPS Low-Tech, and this character features a few skill techniques, which are detailed in GURPS Martial Arts. His gear is a bit more of an expression of what you typically see in GURPS: he has a 'settled' lifestyle, so he gets to spend 20% of his starting wealth on adventuring gear. In this case, that's $3,000, of which he spends $2,400 on a fine Spatha--or thrusting broadsword. The remaining gear (and his horse, as appropriate) is issued to him by Rome, and considered part of the 80% that he doesn't actively spend during character creation.

Virilus [205 pts total]
Attributes [60 pts sub-total]: ST +3 [30]; DX +1 [20]; IQ +0 [0]; HT +1 [10]; HP +0 [0]; Will +2 [10]; Per +0 [0]; FP +0 [0]

We're introduced to Virilus with an arm-wrestling bar scene, so +3 Strength is pretty much a given. He's capably coordinated, but bullish in his movements, so I deem that's +1 Dexterity. Even though he's a general, he'd get standard Intelligence of 10, as he never seems to work on anything but a basic rational level. A healthy professional soldier with no evidence of strict endurance, he ought to have at least +1 Health. He's a strong-willed, forceful character with +2 Willpower, but the rest of his stats--Hit Points, Perception, Fatigue Points--fall into their standard values as well.

Influence and Wealth [84 pts sub-total]: Languages: Latin (native); Cultures: Roman; Very Wealthy ($15,000 starting, $13,500/month) [30]; Military Rank 7 [35], Status 3 (+2 courtesy status due to rank) [17], Reputation 2 (Romans: famed general of the Ninth Legion, recognized: 7 or less) [2]

For lower class characters, the influence and wealth categories are an afterthought most of the time. For upper class characters, though, it is going to be a big part of the character sheet. That's certainly the case for Virilus. First, his language and culture is limited to his native familiarity with Rome. As a legion's general, he is Military Rank 7. I gave him Very Wealthy, which is moderately rich by GURPS standards--twenty times average wealth. In GURPS Fantasy, they state that this correlates to Status 5, but  that requires a huge Cost of Living--GURPS' way of representing that living the Status 5 high life requires spending more money on food, clothes, and other luxuries. So instead I went with Status 3 with 2 levels of courtesy status that are more a result of his military rank. Finally, I gave him a Reputation. In GURPS a Reputation can be a bonus or penalty to relevant social rolls. The Reputation has a description of its nature and those who are affected by the rep, and a recognition number that shows how easy to spot they are in public. For Virilus, he has a significant Reputation as the hero of Hispania, but he apparently isn't very recognizable, as the emissary in the first act identified him as a common soldier.

Advantages [25 pts sub-total]: Combat Reflexes [15], Fearlessness 5 [10]

Virilus felt very straight-forward when it came to Advantages. When you see Virilus dive into the bar fight's brawl at the end of his first scene, he mounts a table and kicks a guy in the face without hesitation--that's got to be Combat Reflexes if ever anyone had them. He also seems to be nearly unflappable in the face of his own demise, with a grim sneer as he beckons for death, so he gets a hefty Fearlessness 5. This means that he gets to add 5 to his Willpower when making fear checks, which means he'll hardly ever balk in the face of danger.

Disadvantages[-55 pts sub-total]: Bad Temper (SC: 12 or less) [-10], Chauvinistic [-1], Code of Honor (soldier's) [-10], Duty (extremely hazardous, always on duty) [-20], Gregarious [-1], Lecherous (SC: 15 or less) [-8], Overconfidence (SC: 12 or less) [-5]

As Virilus was simple and easy to assign advantages, he also carries his disadvantages on his sleeve. His introduction involves him converting a heated arm wrestling game into a game of stab-arm and then into a full-on bar brawl, so I think he fits the bill for Bad Temper with a fairly average self control number of 12 or less. In a deleted scene he characterizes Pict society as being childish and primitive relative to Roman society, so he gets Chauvinistic, which is a minor sort of intolerance for anything not your own society. Even given his temper and chauvinism, though, he is a professional soldier with a clear sense of ethics, which gives him a soldier's Code of Honor. Given the mass of bloody battles he references in talking to his men, he gets Duty with the Extremely Hazardous and Always on Duty modifiers. He laughs and pals around with his men to a degree that it is brought up as a detriment to his status, so Virilus easily qualifies for Gregarious, too. When Virilus first meets Etain, who I established doesn't have a super high appearance modifier, his mind and mouth go straight for the gutter, so I gave him Lecherousness with a generous self control number of 15. And finally, his whole legion is ambushed and obliterated so easily I can only assume he suffers from Overconfidence, albeit with an average self control number.

Skills [61 pts sub-total]: Animal Handling (Horses) IQ [2], Armoury (melee) IQ-1 [1], Brawling DX+2 [4], Broadsword DX+1 [4], -Targeted Attack (Broadsword Thrust/Vitals) Skill-2 [2], -Targeted Attack (Broadsword Swing/Neck) Skill-3 [3], Carousing HT+1 [2], Cartography IQ-1 [1], Diplomacy IQ-2 [1], Hiking HT-1 [1], History (First Century Roman Empire) IQ [4], Interrogation IQ [2], Intimidation Will [2], Knife DX [1], Law (Roman) IQ-2 [1], Leadership IQ+2 [8], Navigation (land) IQ+1  [4], Politics IQ-1 [1], Public Speaking IQ [2], Riding (Horses) DX+1 [4], -Cavalry Training Skill-1 [2], -Combat Riding Skill+2 [3], Savoir-Faire (Military) IQ+2 [4], Shield DX+2 [4], Spear DX-1 [1], Strategy (Land) IQ+2 [12], Tactics IQ [4]

As a Roman soldier, Virilus gets a list of skills as matter of course: Hiking, Broadsword, Shield, Spear, and Knife. As a fighting general, though, he only seems to get much use out of his sword skill, so the others I kept at the lowest level of skill. Most of the rest of his skills are a result of his status as a general. Riding, Law, Leadership, Politics, Strategy, and Tactics all fit into these commander categories. The rest are a selection to round out his character, with Savoir-Faire (military), Carousing, and Brawling being picked specifically to aid his special rapport with his subordinates. Unlike Etain's sheet, this write-up has a specific type of skill included: Techniques. Techniques are a subset of a specific skill, and in the listings above they are marked with a hyphen and follow the skills they rely upon. Each Technique represents a 'trick' or aspect of the skill that you can train to be unusually adept at. For instance, Virilus has focused his training to be better at using sword thrusts to the vitals, so rather than taking the usual -3 to attack an enemy's vitals, he only takes a -2 penalty when performing this signature move. This is the same story for his sword swing to the neck. His Cavalry Training and Combat Riding techniques help him to keep good control of his horse while surrounded by enemies.

Clocking in at 205 points, Virilus is built with double the number of points I spent on Etain. But, with his tremendous wealth, command, and social pull, most of his points are not poured into the soldier role. Also, the nature of GURPS' brutal combat--which I mentioned in my intro to GURPS--means that the points disparity won't mean too much when the General confronts the She-wolf, even if he has superior overall abilities.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Dennis Quaid

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Dennis Quaid: Deadly Daddy

Movie: Frequency (Own it)

As the father whose absence defines the movie's plot, Dennis Quaid has some pretty strict requirements in Frequency. He's got to fill an idealized but hubristic role as Francis Sullivan--he has to be a loving father and husband, who nonetheless indulges his vices enough that one or the other will in fact kill him. He does this well, immediately pouring all his Texan grinning charisma into his scenes as he commands the screen. The facile, friendly way he relates to his family isn't the real charm of Quaid's contribution to this film. It's the way he stubbornly characterizes real, bone-deep father/son sentiments with a terse bean-town accent. When he cheats death once, his future-lorn son insists that he be more careful with his life, to which Francis quickly replies:

It's such a small moment and is so particular to the paternal dynamic of the film that it's often missed by casual viewers. Fear of your own mortality is one thing, dealt with in a particular way that comes up often in life, but fear of orphaning your own child inspires a strong reaction that causes you to both deny your mortality and fear it with paralyzing anxiety. It's the sort of thing that makes you pledge unreasonable promises to always be there, and it drives you to make important life changes to try to fulfill the oath to always be there. As Francis, Dennis Quaid really sells the conflicted combination of reality and hopes with which a parent has to live, fulfilling the second essential element of this relational film.

Movie: Enemy Mine (Own it) Light Spoilers

Enemy Mine is a classic piece of sci-fi drama. A little-known 1985 film starring Dennis Quaid as Willis Davidge and Louis Gosset Jr. as Jeriba Shigan and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, Enemy Mine explores the commonality of the soul and the vile depths it can reach. Willis Davidge is a human space-fighter pilot who shoots down an enemy fighter over an unknown planet only to crash-land nearby as well. Davidge, who lost his friend and co-pilot in the crash, immediately goes hunting for the alien survivor of the enemy fighter. His narration, which has a fantastically detached and sober tone to contrast the fierce emotions that fill the movie, admits that this is his first time seeing a Drac, and he immediately sets a trap as part of his first close encounter. Pouring fuel into a pond the alien is swimming in and setting it ablaze, the enraged human crows:

There's a fierce, ugly hatred to the moment, but Quaid keeps it relatable. The tender death scene he'd just had with his co-pilot had a genuine, halting weight to it that informs the audience this is hatred from a place of pain and loss. He fails to defeat Jeriba, whom he dubs Jerry, and the two begrudgingly accept each other's company and help as they survive on a wild and strange world. This alien castaway story is challenging on a dramatic and human level, and both the stars do a great job of showing the psychological wear of the roles while also sprinkling some very down-to-earth humor throughout. Davidge eventually becomes something of a surrogate father to Jerry's son Zammis (don't worry, there's no reptiloid hanky-panky in this film--Dracs are asexual creatures, we're told). As that happens, Davidge begins to realize that the common elements between him and some of the Dracs are stronger and more heartfelt than the way he feels about a lot of his own people. It's touching and well-done, but it will leave you emotionally raw by the tear-jerking end. Watch it, as it is one of Quaid's finer roles--Gosset's, too--and it performs the best function of sci-fi: to enlighten and convict us of our capabilities and faults.

Movie: Dragonheart (Own it)

Dragonheart is a fun fantasy movie that feels a bit like it wanted to be a PG kids movie but realized that a PG-13 adventure fit the story better. In it, Quaid plays a once-idealistic knight named Bowen who has sworn to rid the world of dragons. This is a very personal act of vengeance for him, as he blames the corruption of his royal pupil Einon--now a murderous tyrant--on a specific dragon who saved the boy's life through the magic of the...wait for it...dragon heart. The film starts out playful but gets deadly serious quickly. After Einon is mortally wounded in a rebellion against his father's reign, the prince-cum-king begins building on his father's cruel legacy through slave labor and sport-killing peasants. Bowen charges in and wrestles the young king to the ground, reminding him of the virtues he'd try to instill in the boy:

Quaid's Bowen is gruffly earnest in the role, and there's a disconnect between the two in the first act that feels almost like a father washing his hands of his son. The movie follows Bowen twelve years later, where his blood-sport against all dragons has wiped out all but Draco--the dragon who'd innocently saved Einon's life in the first place. The first interaction between the two is decidedly campy and feels like a letdown from the movie's solid start, but it gears up into a decent climax that is somewhere south of Willow but still gratifying and well-realized. All of which is championed by Quaid's canny knack for playing someone who has a wounded sensitivity mingled with a killer instinct and a warrior's mindset. Must be a Texan thang.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.