Review (well, blathering): GTA V



Everyone and their pet monkey is playing GTAV and there’s a plethora of reviews out there, so this isn’t going to be a conventional review but rather a rambling discussion of what is probably going to be the end-cap game for this generation of consoles for many people.

As ever, GTAV has attracted its fair share of controversy. There’s the usual pearl-clutching about the prostitutes and the violence but a few other things as well. The fact is, controversy draws attention and the more people complain and fuss about a controversial media artefact the more attention – and sales – it gets. You’d really think that people would understand this by now and would refrain from helping their ‘enemies’ but this behaviour persists and media of all sorts continues to reap the benefits of idiots who can be poked with sticks until they provide free publicity.

The trick is to have something of substance to back that up and while GTA IV was overshadowed by clone games like Sleeping Dogs and Saint’s Row, GTA V seems to come back out on top again.

The heart of all these controversies is the inability of a very few cranks and a huge number of critics to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Since the days of Wertham – and even before – there has been a movement to try and claim something that someone doesn’t like as the cause of some broader social ill. The claims differ, but the argument is always the same whether it’s ‘D&D makes people satanists’ or ‘video games cause violence’. It’s pretty much always bollocks, but here we are again and again and again.

There’s been two particular areas of controversy for GTA V that are relatively new. The first of these is a prolonged torture scene where, at the behest of the FIB, Trevor (the resident psycho) takes to an Azerbaijani with various torture implements in order to get information to aid in the assassination of another Azerbaijani. This is pretty damn graphic and horrible with little of the immediate humour that’s to be found elsewhere throughout the game – though some black humour remains.

The scene is difficult and uncomfortable for people, but torture should be difficult and uncomfortable. The scene pushes the boundaries beyond gunning down waves of anonymous arseholes and puts you in the position of directly harming an innocent man in horrible ways.

Yet the scene serves several important purposes.

  1. It shows that Trevor’s psychosis is not, at least not entirely, made up. There’s some suggestion that he is ‘acting’ now and again throughout the game, playing the ‘role’ of the dangerous psycho with a bit of self-referential pretend acting. The scene shows that there is a genuine core of horror to the Trevor character beyond the clownish psycho ‘act’ and that he is genuinely damaged and detached in some way.
  2. It is an important satirical scene in the commentary that Trevor provides later on it and the uselessness of torture as a means of extracting information. He also lets the torture victim go, showing the alternate side to him. One that cares about the underdog and hates bullies (at least ones that aren’t him).
  3. The scene is uncomfortable and horrible and as such serves as a useful counterpoint to the exaggerated and impersonal ‘fun’ violence of the rest of the game. Horrible things should be uncomfortable, should be horrible. We should be repulsed by torture and it should make us uncomfortable.

GTA has always had a bit of a difficult relationship with women. Well, with fictional cipher-women (and men) that don’t really exist. It plays to the existing gangster/gang/crime tropes and always had. If it didn’t play to these existing fictional artifices it wouldn’t play to the genre and wouldn’t be what it is. The source material is ‘sexist’ in that it is about what stubbornly remains primarily a man’s world. It’s also an exaggeration of both the real world organised/gang crime and the movies and series which are – themselves – an exaggerated form. It doubles down on it.

There’s no female character in GTA V, something which has raised comment this time around. This is significant in itself because some of the commentators saying this would be the kind to normally disparage GTA as being an awful, horrible, sexist and everything wrong with the world. If they want to play, that’s progress.

Part of the problem, in making games that include women and that are explicit and violent, is that violence against women (or children for that matter) leads to higher ratings for games and a great deal of complaints. This is the same problem that dogged the most recent Lara Croft game with the presumption that the violence against her was necessary sexual or that it disempowered the character in some way, rather than demonstrating her resilience (as it would with John McClane in Die Hard by way of comparison).

There is violence against women in GTA of course, but it is primarily the result of the player going ‘off the rails’ rather than being baked into the plot. You can, if you choose, run over prostitutes, snipe anyone with huge sunglasses on the beach or mercilessly slaughter every woman you see but that’s on you and your choice. Within the plot itself you can deliver a few innocent ladies to a cannibal cult but their fate happens off screen. You also kill Molly Schultz, but indirectly in that she panics and flees from you and then suffers a horrible fate as a consequence of her own stupidity.

This feels a little cautious for GTA which hasn’t been quite so cautious in the past, with missions to spy on and kill cheating spouses, golddiggers etc. Perhaps even Rockstar felt they had to be a bit more cautious in the recent atmosphere and that seems like a shame. Equality is when everyone is treated just as badly as each other and exempting women from the action and the violence – even as NPCs in the fight scenes which are exclusively male.

five-brand-new-gta-v-artwork-01It’s a Man’s World
I think the reason a female character is absent, beyond the potential criticisms that would be involved in that (you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t) is that GTA V’s characters and story are, indeed, very much telling male stories.

Series writer and co-creator Dan Houser told The Guardian that GTA V was all male because “the concept of being masculine was so key to this story.”

It sounds like a bad excuse for leaving women out but as I played the game I found that statement rang more and more true. It is about masculine stories, more so it is about crisis-of-masculinity stories. There’s been some criticism that the characters are each ‘pathetic’ in their own way but that strikes me as unfair and dismissive.

None of these men fit into the world in which they find themselves and each reacts to it in a different way.

Mike betrays his principles and his friends for a shot at what is supposed to be the good life, but it’s also a betrayal of self, leaving him profoundly unsatisfied with two ungrateful kids and a spouse who – at least at the outset – hates him and cheats on him. His daughter is an out of control fame whore and his son is an infuriating do-nothing slob. Perhaps meant to be a sly poke at the people playing the game themselves. Mike tries to redeem himself with therapy and new-age bullshit but what saves him in the end is being himself and stopping trying to be anything else. Detente comes when his family accepts him and their situation and understands he does the best he can with a bad hand.

Franklin is trying to overcome his situation. He’s come up in the ‘hood’ and is ambitious. He is constantly being held back by his aunt, his childhood friend and the gangs obsessions with each other. Getting ‘out’ is seen as a betrayal of his roots and everything he does to better himself costs him friends, home, family and his girlfriend Tanisha who remains loyal to her past and origins and sees him as fake for trying to progress. Franklin remains unresolved by the end of the story, he has success but is still tied to his past by his friends and past.

Trevor is, on the face of it, an entirely superficial and clownish psychopath. There’s more to him though. He’s the friend left behind, the bachelor, the crazy guy who is your friend but your family or spouse don’t like. The guy you give up but miss forever. He’s loyal to a fault and expects the same of everyone. He’s an avatar of unrestrained masculinity, of violence and sexuality without the restraint and control that most men learn from the moment adolescence sets in. Some of what he says and does is fake, a front to maintain his reputation, other parts aren’t. He is, in many ways, the monster that men are portrayed as being in some feminist opinion and theory.

There may be no female characters but women are key to the story, for each man they’re a powerful motivator and shaper in their life. For Mike his wife is his world, even if she is a two (three, four?) timing bitch. For Franklin, his ex Tanisha hangs over his life like a cloud and may be part of the reason he wants to escape or better himself, to show he’s as good for her as her rich educated fiancée is. For Trevor, though you don’t find out until the very end, his mother is the defining woman in his life and the way she acts towards him and treats him makes sudden and abrupt sense of him as a person.

Midlife crisis, drive to ‘make it’, and the temptation to just stop giving a fuck.

Grand_Theft_Auto_London_1969-backThe Game
The game is great, much better than GTAIV which lost the plot a bit and included a bunch of annoying features. The heists are the stand out feature and it’s a shame there weren’t more of them. I was concerned that three characters would lose focus and make for a weaker story but it does work. Of the characters Mike has the most complete story and the best arc, Trevor is fun and interesting – as a freak – and the only real weak point in the game is Franklin who feels like a bit of an afterthought.

It’ll be interesting to see how the online version works out.

If I never hear the word ‘nigger’ again, I’ll be happy.

PS: Rockstar, please make a new version of GTA London. We’ve spent enough time on the yanks and it’s about time to bring it back home.

Have some MOTSP stuff

Related to a module I’m working on in my spare time.

Steen Threel-Gawb 100xp

Down on his luck, desperate and behind on payments on his ship, Steen has hit a gold mine… well, a silver mine, with the remains of Banthic station and is paranoid about having it stolen out from under him. He is a short, squat creature in a golfball spacesuit covered in straps and hooks. He has a crew of cheap, barely-usable salvage robots that do the majority of the work for him – but are virtually scrap themselves.

Close Defence: 14
Ranged Defence: 14
Armour: Scrapper Spacesuit 1d4+1 + Natural Armour d4
Hit Dice: 3 (24hp)
Initiative: +0
Movement: 10m per round
Attacks: 1/+1 (+2 ranged)
Damage: 1d4+1 (Fist) 1d20+1 Space Cleaver, Blatter Pistol 1d4.
Saves: 6, Power 7, Will 8.
Traits: Shell, Intrusive, Strong Will
Skills: Security 1, Tinker 3.

Dt-12_heavy_blaster_pistolSerpyCo Blatter Pistol 125gp

The Blatter is a tiny hold-out pistol used for personal protection from vermin and clearing parasites from ship hulls. Its chief advantage is being able to shoot at a reasonable range during EVA and not being powerful enough to damage salvage. This makes it a favourite amongst scrappers, belters, miners and shipboard security.

Damage D4, Medium range, Ammo Save 20, Extra capacity, Long Range, Targetter+1



gerber_kick_axeTechWerkz Space Cleaver 25gp

The TechWerkz Space Cleaver is a tiny, folding cleaver made of superdense alloy. It is hugely weighty for its size and can smash and cut through virtually any material. It’s sold as a tool but, despite its small size is favoured as a weapon by boarding parties.

Damage D4, Armour Defeating -8, Vicious x5


member-lost-tribeTechWerkz Scrapper Suit 700gp

A robust spacesuit with good protection, jump jets and power assist favoured by technicians and scrappers.

1d4 Armour, Jump Jets, Power Enhancement +1, Reinforced +1, Life Support.

Reconditioned Salvage Robots 2xp

Steen picked these, spiderlike, robots up in a job lot from the auction houses of Grench – a scrap-ringed planet. He has no idea who made them or when they were made but they were cheap. Fragile and mostly held together by duct tape and wishful thinkings they’re essential to his business. Not that he won’t sacrifice them to protect himself.

Close Defence: 10
Ranged Defence: 10
Armour: 1
Hit Dice: 1 (1hp)
Initiative: +0
Movement: 10m per round
image_21_spider_robot_top_viewAttacks: 2/+0
Damage: 1d6 (assorted drills, saws, torches and other tools).
Saves: 5
Traits: Brother Machine, Extra Action, Armoured 1
Skills: Tinker 2.

The Daddy’s Girl – Ouatu Class Salvage Scout – 52,550 gp

Ouatu vessels haven’t been made in many years but they’re tough little ships, popular with pirates and wreckers. The Daddy’s Girl is much patched and held together with spit and chewing gum but is a typical example of a maintained – but unmodified – vessel of this type.

Scale: 4
Crew: 1
Hit Dice: 4 (16 hp)
Attack: 0/+3 D8 damage
Armour: 1d4
Rusty_Ship_2_by_VonmurderDefense: 8
Speed: Moderate
Weapons: None
Toughness: 7
Reflexes: 5
Power: 8
Customisations: Aquatic, Automatic Systems, Cargo (100,000 tons), Improved Sensors +1, Absorbtion Shield (10 points), warp drive, tractor beam, repulsor beam, Improved Power +1.
Weapon: Scrap Cannon.


Mass-DriverScrap Cannon 1550gp

A ship scale weapon the scrap cannon is more a tool than a weapon. A pulsed magnetic beam that can hurl scrap metal vast distances.

Scale: 4, Damage: D8, Range: Long, Ammo Save: 16, Inaccurate:-1, Long Range, Normal damage + Shocking, 

Luck of the Draw

0176615_23929_MC_Tx360Is it gauche to love one’s own game?


Specifically I love the system in it and I think it could be used for other things.

For those of you who don’t have the game (yet), here’s how it works.

The group has a pool of points represented by beads in a bag. One of these beads is black (a bad bead) and represents failure. If you draw the black bead you fail and the group gets a setback. Two black beads on the same task (you put it back in when you draw it) and you’re in serious trouble.

The Games Master sets a difficulty which is the number of beads that needs to be drawn. Your skill, traits etc reduce the number of beads you have to draw, but you always have to draw at least one.

It’s pretty simple and in IRREPRESSIBLE! you share a pool but the system has a lot going for it.

There’s tension when you draw beads from the bag. There’s dread when you see the black bead. It’s adaptable to different difficulties and has the dramatic draw of your luck – inevitably – running out.

flashgordonThere must be a way to use this in other ways, in other settings. Maybe each player could have their own bag and the system could be extended to incorporate more traditional elements like damage, magic and so on. If you wanted to complicate matters different coloured beads or chips could have different meanings. Spells and other effects could add or take away beads. A communal pool could be drawn upon – or not, an optional addition from earned deeds.

There’s lots of possibilities to this way of doing things that preserves chance but also feeds narrative, a diceless game with the heart of a dice game.

It bears thinking about for future projects.

Lupus Phallus Redux


While I work on a reply to the Wired article, this may as well have another airing.

Growling and whimpering the deformed beast makes its way – very delicately – towards you, as though it were treading upon broken glass. It’s lips are drawn back in a snarl of pain and frustration and its eyes burn with… insane lust?

Lupus Phallus Level 3 Lurker
Medium Natural Magical Beast
Initiative +6
Senses: Perception +8, Low-light vision
HP 38; Bloodied 19
AC 17, Fortitude 17, Reflexes 15, Will 15
Speed 3
Bite +8 (Standard, At-will)
1d6+4, 2d6+4 against a prone target.

Trip +8 (Standard, recharge 5,6)
1d6+4 damage, +6 Vs Reflexes or target is knocked prone.

Infuriate (Standard, recharge 6)
Close blast 6; +6 Vs Will. Anyone affected attacks the Lupus Phallus with a -2 penalty to hit and a +2 bonus to damage doing so. Attacking any other enemy retains the -2 penalty to hit but not the bonus to damage.

Surprise Sex (Standard, Encounter)
1d6+4 damage, can only be used against prone targets at +6 Vs Fortitude. Affected targets are unable to act while engaged by the Lupus Phallus and the attack automatically continues on the following turn and every turn after that until it fails.

Alignment: Unaligned

Ability Scores
Str 14 +4 Dex 15 +4 Wis 14 +4
Con 14 +4 Int 2 -2 Cha 10 +2

The Lupus Phallus – also known as the ‘dickwolf’ in the vulgar common tongue – is a creation of magic and not a natural beast at all. It is created using complex transformation magics upon the still developing pups within the belly of a normal female wolf changing them into these strange and pitiable creatures with a phallus for every limb.

Why anyone would initially want to create such a beast is unsettling to speculate about but they have come to serve a purpose in humiliating and disciplining slaves, prisoners and criminals in the mines, dungeons and stocks of lands and settlements that have access to powerful magic and which aren’t so concerned with matters of ‘good’.

The origin of the Lupus Phallus is lost to time immemorial but was first documented in the apocrypha of Onestrum Fiddler, the notorious ‘blue’ mage in the third age. The less permissive fourth age of the world has made things difficult for practitioners of blue magic, limiting their works to the more obscure corners of the published world but, during the third age it briefly flowered into serious academic debate and record and it is here, in these now-forgotten tomes that we find them first described.

The Lupus Phallus is the target of a great deal of hate and resentment, especially from those who have suffered its sticky attentions but the beast is actually as much a pitiable victim as anyone who has had to endure its lusty advances.

When a Lupus Phallus is born it cannot walk. It’s loose and floppy limbs are more like useless, uncontrollable tentacles. Each Lupus Phallus must be hand-reared until they hit adolescence and it is only then that they can – gingerly – make their way slowly around on their limbs. Even after this point they are unable to hunt and must, instead, be fed. It is also at this time that their trademark behaviour of trying to mount anything and everything kicks in and their trainers must harshly discipline them so that they only try it on that which they are supposed to.

The results may be unpleasant, but the Lupus Phallus is only acting on its natural instincts. An unfixed male puppy or dog with the loveliest temprement will still try to hump someone’s leg due to sexual frustration. Imagine that puppy with not one, but five phalloi, pumping hormones and reacting to the slightest daydream or pleasant sensation with powerful urges. The poor Lupus Phallus is driven insane, every day, with beatings and sexual frustration, little wonder then that it unleashes those urges with such enthusiasm when it is permitted.

Even then the poor beast’s suffering does not end. A quintuple orgasm not only drains the beasts vital bodily fluids but causes such strain on the creature’s heart that many die the first time they’re allowed relief.

Subject to a recent witchhunt the poor Lupus Phallus is now more endangered than ever and this majestic and misunderstood beast may soon be extinct. Adopt one today and protect the Lupus Phallus from exploitation and hatred until specialist mages can complete their work on the Coochcoyote and allow for the Lupus Phallus species to become self-perpetuating.